The Williams family of the Lafayette region is famed for the number of zydeco musicians it can claim, This roll call includes Nathan Williams, leader of The Zydeco Cha-Chas, Dennis Williams, the guitarist extraordinaire as well as the famed painter, Mark Williams to Nathan Williams, Jr. Their music is showcased in zydeco clubs, featured on albums and CDs and they are regulars at concerts and festivals in Louisiana and across the United States.
One of the most famous – and active – members of this family is Sidney (Sid) Williams, eldest brother, cousin, uncle and father to the others in the zydeco Williams family. Sid, born in 1951, learned to play the accordion, the main instrument in zydeco, at an early age. In time, he became a member of his brother Nathan’s band, owner of a record label on which many classic zydeco albums were released, owner of El Sid O’s Zydeco & Blues Club and opened his own grocery and convenience store, Sid’s One Stop in Lafayette. Every year he brings together the most famous zydeco musicians for a benefit concert at his club, an event called the Annual Thanksgiving Zydeco Food Drive, to raise funds used to provide food, supplies and gifts for needy people in the area. For this work, Sid was presented with the Jefferson Award for Public Service. Sid continues to play and also acts as manager of his nephew band, Lil Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers.
Kreol caught up with Sid in April of 2014, at the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette and sat down to ask him about his life, music, inspiration and, of course, his favourite food.
Hello! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Sidney Jo seph Williams, Jr. I come fr om St. Martinsville, Louisiana. My mother is still in St. Martinsville. She is 81 y ears old and likes to drink Jack Daniels and black coffee.
How many of you were there in the family?
I have seven brothers and one sister. Really, eight brothers, but one died when he was four or five years old. And, I have lost three more bothers, one last y ear , Nathan, the baby. I am the oldest one.
Was it tough growing up?
Well, it was kind of rough. Everything was going good, before my daddy died, because he made the living and everything. I was 16 when he died. For a while, I was mad with the world. My little brothers did not have anything. My mum would wash the clothes at night, and hang it over the fire, going to work for them white folks and earning twenty dollars a week. I became bitter. Somebody would tell me something [get into an argument] and I would whoop the shit out of them, you know. I was just mad with the world, until I got myself in trouble and went to jail.
What kind of trouble was that?
Me and a guy got into a fight and I bust him in the head.
How long were you in jail for?
A few days, maybe a week.
What happened when you got out of jail?
My daddy knew everybody, [including] J.B. T alley, a big white man – my daddy was selling ice with him on the wagon when he started. His company is now worth $65 or $70 million. He came up to me and said, “Boy, I am disappointed in you. Your daddy worked hard for you”. We were having problems with the house then, because when my daddy died the family that owned the land that our house was on wanted their property back. So he said, “I tell you what I will do for you”. He took my momma and I downtown to the St. Martinsville bank, and told them, “I need you to loan this boy and his momma $20,000 to buy some land and move their house”. The bank manager asked, “So how you going to pay that, Mr. JB?” He said, “I did not ask you that”. He said, “I want 85% from the bank, so just fill out the paper like I told you and give them people the money”. We got the money, I bought some property, moved the house and started working f or him [J.B. Talley’s construction company]. I worked at Howard Johnson at night. Then I moved to Lafayette with my aunty so I traveled back and forth. I washed cars on the weekend at the Ford garage and finally bought myself a $30 car. The lady at the Ford garage liked me, so she sold me a car for $30.
Then I met this lady called Miss Watkins. She was the manager of Howard Johnson. We were friendly, but it was foolishness, you know, because at that time if you even approached a white woman, they would hang you, that brother was just out of it. Just drama, drama! A white boy told me one time, “When you see them white girls come off the bus, I want you to put your head down”. I looked at him – I had a rake in my hand – I wanted to bust that boy in the head with that thing, but my granny called me and told me to come inside. This is why anything about color does not bother me. I am used to it. I have seen some stuff in the ’60s – I am 63 years old. I had a white boy tell me to put my head down. I am not into white ladies, I do not believe in mixed marriages, because you see, sir, when you call me a nigga you do not have to be a white boy. The city was made for white and black, but nigga is the way you conduct yourself. So, when you start talking crazy to me – and I am halfway to bipolar – I am just going to switch on you.
Anyway, Miss W atkins took me to her house one time and I met her husband, a big tall guy with a pipe, y ou know. His name was Melvin. I said, “What’s going on, Mr. Melvin?” He said, “Boy, you work really good”. He offered me a beer, but I said, “I do not drink too much, sir”. I am trying to make it back home and the old car ain’t running too good, plus I do not have a driver’s license. I have to use the back roads and all that to get back home. He said, “I have a good job for you to work off-shore”. I said, “Oh, man, I can’t even swim. I never had time to learn how to swim”. I am so busy hustling and am angry, they trying to get my brothers out of Catholic school – my daddy did not want them in Catholic school. I am mad with the world and see, where I come from, we did not have any drugs or anything, so you needed to work hard. First time I saw a joint of weed, I asked the man what he’s smoking, because it smelt so bad. [When he told me], I told him to get that out of my face. I was over 20 years old.
So he [Melvin Williams] brought me to Venice, Louisiana to work at a Penrite [Oil Company drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico]. He said, “Look here, do not talk bad to these guys, or anything”. I said, “I know how to talk to people”. It was [platform] Penrite 53. There were 60 guys on there, two black guys out of 60 guys, but they never called me anything bad, no name calling, but I never played with them, either. They did not trust me, because I never said anything. The less you say the better you are. So I stayed out there for two and a half years. I worked over [during] that time because we needed the money.1 We did not even have a phone in my mamma’s house. After the first two months that I was working there, I tried getting a ride back home. A man [on the platform] said, “Where you going? We need some men next week”. I told him, “OK, I will stay”. The man said, “What? You been here three month, you wanna stay more?” I said, “I have no money, I have nothing, we don’t even have a phone at home”. One day, I called my aunt and had her tell my mom that I will call two days later so she should be there [at my aunt’s house]. When I called, my momma told me, “Sid, I have a check [a paycheck from Penrite] made out to you here. I don’t know what to do with it”. I asked, “How much for?” and she said it was $2,000. I said, “Take the check, go to one of the banks and open an account. Then hook up your phone”.
I needed to get home and was trying to catch a ride home. A man who stopped to pick me up asked, “Where are you going?” I said, “My mom is bad and I need to see her”, but I was thinking about all that money. I never had so much money before!
When I got home, Mom was happy. She had been worried about me. I said, “Mom, we need to get a car”, and we went to town. We walked, me and my mom. W e w ent to the car lot, I had $13,000. I had worked long and hard and the company had paid well. I thought, “Things are good!” Momma was worried. “Are you sure you’re not doing anything bad with those white people? They will hang you!” I said, “Momma, don’t worry. We will be fine”. I went to the Chevrolet garage and I was told I cannot buy a car. I asked why and he told me that the cost was $2,900. I said, “I want this car”, and he said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Yes, I want this damn car!” I pulled my check book out and showed him and said, “See, I have the money”. He called in the owner and said, “You see, this here man is wanting to buy a car”. The owner looked at me and said, “Hey, boy, what you doing here? I need someone to wash my cars. Go to the back and wash some cars”. I said, “I am not washing no cars. I work off-shore with white folks”. I said, “I want that car, in gold”. I like gold, and everything I have is in gold colour.
I met my wife, you know. She was a blessing for me. Everything went better. She worked at Dr. Pepper and I worked off-shore. We had a little apartment, then I bought a house. But one day a pipe fell and I got hurt, broke my hip and ribs. I could not walk. They took me to a doctor, and I stayed in the hospital for a couple of days. But I did not want to be there. I was thinking of my car, my baby, the house I had just bought. I was doing good! I went into a bad depression. I thought I will lo se everything, worked so hard. My boss told me I had no insurance, but I did not realize that when I bought a house they signed a contract with insurance, so that if I was ill they will pay the loan, so it was good. It was a blessing! So, I started to buy old cars and detail them up nice and sell them for a small profit. Insurance came through and was paying the loan for the house. I got my brothers and we were going and maintaining houses, you know, painting and so on. I would not climb the ladders as they would cancel my insurance if I did. But the insurance for my injury finally came through. They game me $100,000. Firstly, the employer said, “Sid, I will give you $10,000 and $56 a week”. He gave me a cigar (that’s why I smoke them damn things so much) and a check. I said, “How you expect me to live on $50 a week?” I took the check and ripped it. I said, “The white guy got hit in a rib coming from work and got $50,000 and a job in the office, so you ain’t heard the last of me”. I declared war on them white folks. I told him to watch around him, because I will be like a thief in the night. I said, “I will make you shit. My granny said, “Do not do anything that will kill me or your mother. Come to church with me. Let’s pray”. From then, I started to walk with my prayers, to remind me that the devil is walking. Because, you see, white folks may not like one another, but they help each other. Black folk do not do that.
You looked after your brothers, did you not?
Yes, I had to. Let me tell you something: Wonder where you going, but never forget where you came from. My brother Nathan the city Councillor always said that on the television. That’s where he got it from. Sometimes they did not listen to me, but I told them to stick with me.
Do you play music?
Yes, I do. Do you want me to play you a little something? Yes. [Then he starts to play the piano accordion.]
How many children do you have?
I have two girls, no sons.
What do you want now out of life?
Well, now I have a different goal. I have my grandchildren, three granddaughters and four grandsons. I have seven grandchildren and we were eight in the family. I am blessed with them grandchildren. I won $63,000 in the lottery because of these numbers. That’s why I build my daughter a house in the back. Everything I have I am saving for my grandchildren. So, in my life now, I would like to pay all my bills and just go places. Go to California. I used to go to [Las] Vegas, but the last five y ears, since my daughter had cancer, it scared the shit out of me. They took off one breast and then the other breast. I know about cancer because I lost an aunty to it, but never knew it was this terrible. This is why I help them cancer people so much.
What is your favorite food?
I like seven steak and pork, beans and rice.
Who was the most inspirational person in your life?
Ronnie Dawson and Cliff Chenier.
Sid Williams is owner and manager of El Sid O’s Zydeco & Blues Club on North Saint Antoine Street in Lafayette. It show cases the greats of Zydeco music in a late-night weekend venue, and is host to the Annual Thanksgiving Zydeco Fund Drive held every November.